Posted in Baseball

Ch-ch-ch-changes…

Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen warms up before an exhibition game between the Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Ballpark in 2010 (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)
Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen warms up before an exhibition game between the Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Ballpark in 2010 (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)

The fans in Pittsburgh watched Andrew McCutchen play his last game as a Pirate on tv Oct. 1. He went one-for-three, hitting a double off of Gio Gonzelez and left the game for a pinch-runner. The Pirates went on to win 11-8 over the playoff-bound Washington Nationals, notching their 75th and final victory of 2017.

Last night, the Pirates traded McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for reliever Kyle Crick and minor league outfielder Bryan Reynolds.

The Giants, very much in win-now mode, will be interesting to watch. In addition to McCutchen, they added longtime Tampa Bay Rays star third baseman Evan Longoria this offseason. I don’t remember the last time a team acquired two players who were so strongly identified with a different franchise in one winter. Neither is the star that they once were, but magical things seem to happen in San Francisco.

The Pirates are clearly hoping to build for the future. Crick gives them a potentially interesting reliever who’s ready to help at the big league level and Reynolds gives them a lottery ticket for 2020 or so. Given the lackluster return Pittsburgh got for two years of Gerrit Cole, this isn’t an awful package for one year McCutchen.

But it’s the end of an era that once showed such promise in Pittsburgh, and it’s sad that the team wasn’t able to do more when they had McCutchen than go to the playoffs three times and only advance to the Divisional Series once.

And more bad news for Pirates fans… team owner Bob Nutting says this cycle is going to keep happening until there’s a “fundamental redesign of the economics of baseball; that’s not what we’re going to have.”

But as frustrating as it’s gotta be, at least the Pirates have a plan and an owner willing to take some responsibility for the team’s moves. You can argue that Nutting should be willing to risk more of his own money or sell the team to someone who is, but he’s out there sharing his point of view with the media and the fans. (Contrast that with Mets ownership, where everyone is content to let GM Sandy Alderson take all the fallout from unpopular moves even though it’s unclear what financial resources he’s got to work with.)

In other news of interest:

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Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

January thaw

Like the temperatures in the Northeast, Major League Baseball’s frozen hot stove season experienced a brief thaw late last week.

The New York Mets got things started by signing Jay Bruce to a three-year, $39 million contract Wednesday, and added Adrian Gonzalez over the weekend. The Pittsburgh Pirates shipped former Cy Young Award contender Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros for a package of four middling prospects. We finally have some actual news to discuss instead of just rumors.

The Mets’ moves are not exciting, but they should help the team.

Bruce is a consistently productive hitter with inconsistent defensive ratings, though the eyeball test is going to tell you that you’re in trouble if you ever consider him one of the best defensive players on your team. He can help provide power in the middle of the batting order and buy time for Michael Conforto to fully recover from last year’s shoulder injury, even though Conforto will likely be forced to play center field when he does return. And Bruce proved versatile enough to play first base, if there is a need.

Gonzalez is a low-risk, moderate reward signing. With the Atlanta Braves on the hook for all but $545,000 of his $21.5 million contract, Gonzalez can provide spring training competition for Dominic Smith. He can be a veteran bat off the bench if Smith wins the first base job, and Gonzalez can be released if he shows he can’t play at a high enough level to help the Mets.

After all, neither Smith nor Gonzalez had good seasons at the Major League level last year. Gonzalez hit .231 / .287 / .355 with three home runs in 231 at bats in an injury shortened season that saw him lose his job to rookie Cody Bellinger. As a late-season call-up, Smith hit .192 / .262 / .395 with nine home runs in 167 at bats.

For a rebuilding team, it would be an easy call to see if Smith could grow into a starting role. A team that sees itself as a contender needs a fallback plan. fans can’t be criticized for hoping that plan would be more ambitious than Gonzalez. But Gonzalez makes the Mets a better team and shouldn’t preclude them from continuing to shore up their infield by adding a second baseman or third baseman join Asdrubal Cabrera and Amed Rosario and the winner of the first base competition.

Here’s hoping that infielder is coming…and I wouldn’t mind another starting pitcher. Even Bartolo Colon on a minor league deal wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The Cole trade is more of a head-scratcher. Sure, it’s a easy win for the Astros — the defending World Series champs add to an already-good starting rotation that includes Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton.

Even if pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, infielder Colin Moran, who was Houston’s No. 5 prospect and outfielder Jason Martin, who was Houston’s No. 15 prospect, pan out for the Pirates, the Astros made a move that helps them defend their title with minimal impact on their 2018 roster.

The Pirates are getting young, Major League-ready talent… but no one who projects with enough upside to be a star. Their fans are still left wondering if Cole was the first step of a full rebuild or an attempt to reload for another run with Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison. And they’ve got to be coming to the realization that if the return for Cole – a 27-year-old with two years of team control – was disappointing, McCutchen – a 31-year-old in the final year of a seven-year contract – may not bring back anyone of note at all.

With less than a month to go before players start reporting to spring training, hopefully we’ll get some more actual baseball news to talk about instead of rumors created for the sake of page clicks.

And hey, if we don’t? Those “Player X is in the best shape of his life” stories might be a little more interesting if Player X is still looking for a job when they run.

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

The 2018 Queens Baseball Convention is less than two weeks away

The 2018 Queens Baseball Convention is happening next Saturday, January 20th.

Developed as a fan-run fanfest for the New York Mets, the QBC offers us a chance to get excited about baseball again during a long, cold winter.

Current Mets players Brandon Nimmo and Chris Flexen, and former Mets star Todd Hundley will be holding panels and signing autographs. Mr. Met will also be making an appearance. Gary Apple and Jon Harper will host a live (non-televised) version of SNY’s Hot Stove show. There will also be vendors and more.

I’m planning to spend next Saturday at Katch Astoria. There are still a limited number of tickets available at www.queensbaseballconvention.com. If you see me there, please say hi.

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Hoping the Mets emerge from hibernation

We’re about six weeks away from the start of MLB spring training, and most of the best free agents are still looking for jobs. So there’s still time and opportunity for the Mets to make some moves to improve their club for the 2018 season.

And that’s a good thing, because so far all they’ve done is lock up reliever Anthony Swarzak for the next two years. It could just be a negotiating position, but so far GM Sandy Alderson looks like he’s planning to go into 2018 with substantially the same roster that he had at the end of last season – a year where the Mets lost 92 games and scored just 735 runs while allowing 863.

If the Mets can avoid key injuries — no guarantee for any organization, especially this one — they will be better than they were last year. But still, it’s hard to believe that the current team is likely to have a record much better than the .500 mark.

John Harper is the latest columnist to call on the Mets to loosen the purse strings to compete before the window that opened with the 2015 playoff run closes completely. There’s a fan movement to boycott until Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz sell the team.

I understand where that fan anger is coming from, but I don’t think this is a battle I want to fight.

I’ll savor the experience of being at the ballpark on the one or two occasions I go to Citi Field this summer. I’ll put games on as background noise when I’m home. I’ll enjoy the great performances we get from players like Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes and Amed Rosario.

And if the Mets stop being fun at all, I will stop paying attention to them.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Posted in Autographs, Baseball, New York Mets

2017 Mets Autograph: Neil Walker

IMG_6959.jpg

Neil Walker didn’t finish the 2017 season with the Mets, but he was the team’s primary second baseman until an August trade sent him to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Walker posted a solid .339 / .442 / .780 slash line with ten home runs through 73 games with the Mets, though those numbers were down slightly from his 2016 performance. He’s currently a free agent, and the Mets still have an opening for a secondbaseman, but I don’t particularly see a reunion in the cards.

I wrote to Walker care of the Mets spring training camp in February and asked him to sign this card from the 2016 Topps Update series, the only one I had at the time that pictured Walker with the Mets. I got it back last week, postmarked from Pittsburgh – it’s a nice early Christmas present.

Posted in Baseball, Odds & ends, Trenton Thunder

Random baseball photos from 2017

My friend Bart is the last person I know who’s sticking pretty firmly with 20th Century technology. He has no interest in using computers or owning a mobile phone, and he’s still using a 35mm film camera to take photos.

Bart recently sent me prints of some of the photos he took during the baseball season. They’re kinda neat, so I’m sharing some of them here.

The Cuban National Team played a number of games against opponents from the Can-Am League this season. I can’t remember if Bart saw them when they were playing the New Jersey Jackals or the Sussex County Miners, and he didn’t remember who the players are in the photos, but they are still pretty cool.

Cuba Bus 1.jpg

Continue reading “Random baseball photos from 2017”

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Holiday weekend Mets items

Thanksgiving weekend was a quiet time for actual Mets news.

Noah Syndergaard spend part of his holiday helping to feed homeless people, per the Mets’ Twitter feed.

The Mets are reportedly one of two teams that have made an offer to free agent reliever Bryan Shaw.

Nothing against Shaw, who seems like a quality bullpen contributor… but the Mets have Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos and Jerry Blevins, not to mention unsuccessful starters Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, or last season’s middle relief crew that included Rafael Montero, Hansel Robles, Josh Smoker and Paul Sewald. There are plenty of arms that might be effective out of the bullpen and not nearly enough starters that they can count on. So maybe Sandy Alderson should prioritize his limited budget for offseason acquisitions a little bit better?

Queens Baseball Convention tickets have gone on sale, and you can even save a little bit of money if you buy them by tomorrow night to take advantage of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale.

This will be my first time going, and I’m looking forward to it.